Leland Stanford

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Amasa Leland Stanford (born March 9, 1824 in Watervliet , Albany County , New York , †  June 21, 1893 in Palo Alto , California ) was an American railroad entrepreneur, politician and founder of Stanford University .


Leland was one of eight children of Josiah and Elizabeth Phillips Stanford. His ancestors settled in the Mohawk Valley of New York around 1720 . He studied at the Clinton Liberal Institute in Clinton , New York, and studied law at Cazenovia College in Cazenovia , New York, and later law in Albany . He was admitted to the bar in 1848. He moved to Port Washington , Wisconsin . On September 30, 1850, he married Jane Elizabeth Lathrop in Albany. After losing his property in a fire in 1852, he moved to California and tried his luck as a gold digger in Michigan Bluff , Placer County . He then worked as a lawyer but ended up having more success as a businessman. His three brothers followed him to California. He ran a shop for gold digging tools with them. He was a justice of the peace and also helped build the Sacramento Library . In 1856 he moved to San Francisco and did a great deal of business. He earned the big money building railways and the associated land development. As one of the "Big Four" he was a co-founder and in 1861 became President of the Central Pacific Railroad (CP). The company's first locomotive was named " Governor Stanford " in his honor . Under his leadership, the CP built the first railway line across the Sierra Nevada . 530 miles were built in 293 days. In 1891 he and his wife also founded the Stanford University Museum of Art on the university campus .


In his capacity as head of the railway company that built the western section of the first transcontinental railroad in North America across the Sierra Nevada, he brought the famous golden nail (→ Golden Spike National Historic Site ) with him to the meeting of the two railways involved on May 10, 1869 . In 1872 he commissioned Eadweard Muybridge to use the newly developed photographic technology to determine whether a galloping horse always has at least one hoof on the ground or whether it has all four hooves in the air for a short time. The result was that horses galloping may well lift all four hooves off the ground at the same time. This project, which shows movement through a series of still images viewed in quick succession, was a forerunner of film . Stanford was President of the Southern Pacific Railroad from 1885 to 1890 . At the same time, he retained his position as board member of the Central Pacific Railroad until his death in 1893. For the railroad construction, Stanford encouraged the immigration of Chinese to find workers to build the railroad. But when jobs became scarcer, Stanford made the immigrant Chinese a scapegoat and advocated a California state law that disadvantaged the Chinese through unfair taxes and other regulations.


Stanford was a member of the Republican Party and was politically active. He was the eighth governor of California from December 1861 to December 1863 . During his tenure, he cut California's national debt in half and stood up for the protection of forests. After his term of office, the length of the term of office was extended from two to four years. The relevant law was passed during his tenure. He also directed the founding of San José State University .

He later served a little more than a tenure as a senator in the US Senate , from 1885 until his death in 1893. He died at the age of 69. For four years he was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds .


Stanford also owned a winery, the Leland Stanford Winery (founded in 1869). It was run by his brother Josiah. He also owned large wineries in Tehama County and Butte Counties, as well as livestock farms. The Stanfords had a stately home in Sacramento. It was the birthplace of his only son. Today the house is a museum that is also used for important California State celebrations. He had another residence in San Francisco in the Nob Hill district . He and his wife Jane founded Leland Stanford Junior University in memory of their only child, Leland Stanford, Jr., who died of typhoid as a teenager during a trip to Florence, Italy .

About $ 20 million, which is now worth $ 400 million, from the Stanfords' fortune initially went to the university. In 1880, the Stanfords' total net worth was estimated at $ 50 million.

Leland Stanford died in his Palo Alto home and was buried in the family mausoleum on Stanford University campus.


  • Wolk, Roland de: American Disruptor - the scandalous life of Leland Stanford , Oakland, California: University of California Press, [2019], ISBN 978-0-520-30547-2
  • Tutorow, Norman E .: Leland Stanford: man of many careers , Menlo Park, Calif. : Pacific Coast Publ., 1971

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